The Dutch are past masters at self destructing at major finals despite always having squads loaded with talent, but this time round at Euro 2008 they appear to be the happiest they have been for a long time whilst it is the French who look the most ill at ease.
Publicly the players may be circling the wagons and putting on a united face, Gregory Coupet and Franck Ribery insisting nothing was wrong with the atmosphere within the camp but as their D-Day clash with Italy approaches, their opinion does appear at odds with off the record remarks from the squad.
France coach Raymond Domenech has been the subject of some barbed comments from within, which is all that the handler, whose sphinx-like expression never changes, needs given the brickbats he is receiving from outside.
“From the moment we have arrived here for Euro 2008, he (Domenech) has spent more time trying to trick the press than to take care of the squad,” a player told Le Parisien.
No doubt that player would concur with the opinion of 1998 World Cup winning midfielder Emmanuel Petit who gave the idea a rather apt French twist. “We are in France, so it is logical heads should roll,” he said.
During the French Revolution, the guillotine was in permanent action whether for aristocrats or revolutionary leaders.
Many questioned why Domenech did not bring on Karim Benzema, France footballer of the year and leading scorer in the domestic championship, during the second-half of the 4-1 humiliation by Holland on Friday, instead sending on the unfortunate and raw Bafetimbi Gomis.
However, while Domenech claimed it was a case of looking after young players who play in difficult positions, it appears the truth may lie elsewhere.
According to press reports Benzema was subject to a tirade of abuse in the dressingroom following the match from 36-year-old veteran Claude Makelele, with no one daring to interfere, not even Benzema’s Lyon clubmates, for fear of offending one of the ‘old guard’.
However, it appears that Benzema, who enjoys a close friendship with Ribery, has no kudos with the older players, who regard him as ‘arrogant and disrespectful’.
While there is clear blue water between the veterans and the younger arrivals, there is also friction among the latter group with former Marseille team-mates Ribery and Samir Nasri not on speaking terms, even to the extent that they cannot bring themselves to say good morning to each other.
One can only surmise that they drink sour grape juice for breakfast.
Domenech for his part admits that things were not easy in the dressingroom after the Dutch massacre.
“There were certainly moments which were very tense,” said Domenech, who also held a long chat with Benzema on Saturday during training.
“But is is the strength of teams, that in difficult times, they draw on their resources to continue to give good performances.”
Brave words from a man fighting to keep his job, for as any leader of a political party or manager of a team know is that to go into elections or matches split down the middle can only end in one result – defeat.
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